At your next winter house party, if you're looking for an easy, but delicious drink for a big group, you could make punch, serve martinis or Manhattans, or just get a case of good-quality, inexpensive sparkling wines. For something a bit more impressive, go for a cocktail that calls for infusions, garnishes, and, of course, flames – for instance, the Burnt-Pumpkin Old-Fashioned. The brainchild of J.P. Caceres, the head bartender at Del Campo, a South American grill located in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington, D.C., this take on the Old-Fashioned is downright theatrical, requiring its maker to fill a glass with smoke from flaming cinnamon sticks and top it with pan-seared, liqueur-soaked pumpkin. "This is a great cocktail to pull out when you are entertaining small groups," says Caceres. "It includes a lot of techniques you can brag about, but they are all pretty easy and most of them you can do in advance. And trust me, your guests are going to be impressed when you pull out a torch to make their drink."
(Makes one cocktail)
Fresh pumpkin (whole or cut up) for chunks and balls
Rum (your choice)
Granulated sugar for simple syrup
1 oz house-made pumpkin cordial (see Step 1, below)
2 oz Bulleit Rye
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 charred, marinated pumpkin ball for garnish (see Step 3)
4 whole sticks of Mexican cinnamon, broken into large pieces
1. Make the pumpkin cordial: Cut open a small fresh pumpkin (or buy it already cut up). Cut it into large pieces, removing the rind; from these, cut a few small chunks. Reserve some pumpkin for the balls in Step 3. Steep fresh pumpkin chunks in a high-proof booze. Del Campo infuses 151-proof rum with pieces of pumpkin for 10 days, adding simple syrup to taste. To make simple syrup: Combine half sugar, half water in a pot; boil just to dissolve sugar and reduce liquid slightly. Let cool.
2. To begin building the drink, pour the rye whiskey, cordial, and bitters over ice. Stir and strain into a flask, and cap for use later.
3. Make small pumpkin balls with a melon baller. Char them a little in a cast-iron skillet, and on the day they will be served, let them marinate in maraschino liqueur.
4. When ready to serve, assemble a cedar plank, an old-fashioned glass, a large ice cube, the flasked cocktail, the charred and marinated pumpkin balls, and a pile of the Mexican cinnamon-stick pieces.
5. Use a torch (a brulée torch or any blowtorch will do) to briefly flame the pile of cinnamon pieces, then turn the glass upside down over the flaming cinnamon sticks to snuff out the fire. Allow the glass to fill with smoke, flip it back over, and drop in the ice cube. Pour over the cocktail, garnish with a charred melon ball, and serve.